On their 2012 debut, the four members of Swearin' cohered around a consistent sound: fierce and fuzzy and improbably melodic, with choruses you couldn't help shouting along to once you could make out the words. But there was a tension in hearing things turn slightly sweet or slightly sharp, depending on who happened to be singing at the time. That the co-frontpersons, Allison Crutchfield and Kyle Gilbride, are also a couple made things all the more interesting, especially when they sang about love.
With Surfing Strange, out Nov. 4, Swearin' is up from two singers to three, and the personalities at play are even more distinct. Crutchfield's vocals are soft and rounded and tend to sink into their noisy surroundings, letting her tone and the heft of her breaths do as much talking as the words themselves. Gilbride is the best shouter of the bunch, with a nasal edge that could strip paint off hardwood and an acutely cute way of bending his vowels. Bassist Keith Spencer is the group's resident quiet Beatle, or perhaps its James Iha: His hushed turn in "Melanoma" is a spiritual cousin of "Take Me Down," dreamy and sad and sung as if through layers of cheesecloth. And though drummer Jeff Bolt's voice isn't heard, the prankster grin he's known to wear when Swearin' performs is palpable on these recordings as well.
The album opens with the pristine call of a strummed acoustic guitar and ringing bass. It's a moment that feels out of character until Crutchfield appears to deliver an onomatopoeic line — "The crunch of the black ice and the buzz of the semis" — that hints at something heavier. Suddenly, guitar feedback squalls, a kick drum rumbles and the entire ensemble crashes together to meet her challenge. This band does tension right.